Governor Jerry Brown recently received a request from the newly formed California Native American Cannabis Association. The group wants to initiate government-to-government consultations with various tribes. It wants to ensure that marijuana regulations include specific language that respects the sovereignty of tribes and protects their right to self-regulation.
Proposition 64 and its related laws, which govern California’s multibillion-dollar marijuana industry and go into effect on January 1, 2018, does not include any language currently that addresses Indian tribes and their sovereign rights. To ensure the new laws protect tribal sovereignty and build tribal support, C-NACA plans to hold a symposium from October 29 to November 1 at Morongo Casino Resort in Cabazon, California to discuss tribal issues.
According to the President of Emerald Enterprise and Sapphire MJ Solutions, Blue Quisquis, who has extensive experience in gaming operations and now helps tribes enter the marijuana market, “Just like gaming, it is our sovereign right to get into this industry without compromising our rights. We organized C-NACA to build tribal support and to educate our fellow tribes about all aspects of the industry.”
Quisquis also said, “Like gaming, tribes are very capable of developing and regulating a tribal cannabis operation through self-regulation to ensure the licensing of products is safe for all consumers. We can set standards to protect the public health and safety of our community. We are asking all California tribes to support the sovereign rights of those tribes getting into the cannabis business.”
Tina Braithwaite, a member of the association and Chairwoman of Utu Utu Gwaitu Paiute, had this to say, “Tribes should be allowed to get into this industry without giving up sovereignty or jurisdiction to govern our land and people. We should not be subjected to the business licensing structure that the state is putting in place because we are self-governing nations and should be treated as nations.”
“It is very important for tribes to have strong regulatory bodies to show transparency and demonstrate that we are able to not only meet, but also exceed, California’s regulations in some areas,” Braithwaite said. “For those California tribes seeking to participate in the industry, it is important to have government-to-government consultations with Governor Brown so that we are included in the law.”
She explained by saying, “Otherwise, tribes are going to get locked out of the marketplace. Currently, draft regulations do not include provisions for tribes, even though requests were made during the public comment period, and afterward.” Governor Jerry Brown’s Tribal Advisor, Cynthia Gomez, responded to Braithwaite on September 1, in a letter that stated:
“The State of California is open to the participation of tribal governments in California’s cannabis marketplace. The various bureaus and agencies that are developing the regulatory framework that will govern that marketplace have conducted numerous outreach meetings, developed and distributed draft regulations, invited comments on those regulations, and are working hard to promulgate regulations that will create a fair, effective, and vibrant commercial marketplace and ensure protection of California consumers.”
Gomez added, “During our meetings, we encouraged you to participate in that process as the most effective way to ensure that interest of tribal governments are considered. I have personally met with numerous tribal leaders, and I remain willing to meet and consult with tribes that have an interest in this issue. As the Tribal Advisor to the Office of the Governor, it is my responsibility to conduct these consultations on behalf of the Governor. As a member of a California tribe, it is a responsibility I take very seriously.”
Representatives of C-NACA welcomed the chance to conduct conversations that will ensure transparency and protection for tribes. According to Quisquis, education is the most important factor to consider as more tribes look for economic opportunities in the multibillion-dollar marijuana industry, “We found that lack of education is part of the challenge for tribes considering cannabis.”
“For years, the public was told cannabis was a gateway drug that was bad for you and had no medicinal value,” Quisquis said. “Now there is an abundance of scientific knowledge, and it is being used worldwide to treat cancer patients, seizures in babies, elders and veterans addicted to opioids, and many diseases. The U.S. Government even has a Patent No. 6630507 for cannabinoids found to have antioxidant properties.”
For Quisquis, the fight is personal, “I am very passionate about cannabis. I have seen and helped my sister go from Stage 3 breast cancer to being cancer-free with cannabis.” Quisquis added that good standards and regulations were vital for tribal marijuana operations, “We formed C-NACA as a resource to assist tribes getting into the business.”
“If tribes self-regulate and govern operations, it strengthens transparency, so we set it up in a way that ensures public health and safety, quality of a product, and protection of the community,” he said. “We already self-regulate and govern our gaming operations, so to operate a cannabis business is no different. It is important to protect our communities.”
Quisquis continued, “All we are asking is for a government-to-government consultation to work together to ensure that public health and safety are met. Right now, we feel we are getting left out because California officials are not sitting down with us to ensure that our regulations and products mesh with theirs.” He also said:
“When tribes govern themselves and self-regulate, we are fully expressing our sovereignty to improve our people’s life on reservations for the next seven generations, and the communities around us. It is important to build relationships with local government and law enforcement so they understand that our regulations are here to protect.”
According to Braithwaite, the issue has added urgency because of the nationwide opioid epidemic, “The nation is suffering a national crisis with opioid addictions and thousands of deaths are from opioids and their side effects. Right now, many medical professionals are using cannabis to help treat those diseases, and we see science supporting the medical cannabis industry. Tribes want to be part of that and help our communities.”
On September 20 in Sacramento, C-NASA will be hosting its first face-to-face tribal meeting. The Morongo symposium will follow on October 29, and participants will learn what it will take to set up a Tribal Cannabis Commission, with authority over tribal regulations, ordinances, training, surveillance, labeling, testing, auditing, and everything between.
Braithwaite said, “Tribes want to set the high standards that meet or exceed California’s expectations for cannabis operations, and we need tribal support to speak as one voice. We want to stick together and use our sovereign right to operate businesses that benefit our communities. We want to get into this industry and do it right.”